The Concise History of the Bagpipe
The Concise History of the Bagpipe in Ireland

Rome and the Ancient World

Bagpipes by Anthony Baines, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
The Bagpipe by Francis Collinson. 1975 Routledge & Keegan Paul Ltd.    

Great Pipe
The Scale of The Great Highland Bagpipe and
Its Relation To Its Drones

Observations by:

A J Ellis 1885
General C S Thomason 1906
D J Blaikley 1920
G F Ross 1927
Dr G E Allen 1937/1940
Pipe Major Willie Gray 1939
Seumas MacNeill 1948-1950
F G Scott 1954
Archie MacNeill 1959
John Wilson, Canada 1958

Piping Times:
Alex R Carruthers "Characteristics of the Sound Levels of the Highland Bagpipe"
John M A Lenihan and Seumas MacNeill "The Scale of the Highland Bagpipe"
Seumas MacNeill "The Pitch of the Pipe"

The Piobaireachd Society:
Alexander C Mackenzie
"Some Recent Measurements on the Scale of the Great Highland Bagpipe"

"Piobaireachd and its Interpretation" Dr. Frank Richardson and Seumas MacNeill
"The Highland Bagpipe and its Music" Roderick D Cannon
"The Traditional and National Music of Scotland" Francis Collinson
"Bagpipes" Anthony Baines\Oxford University

Some thoughts on Irish Piping

The Piping Times
The Traditional and national Music of Scotland by Francis Collinson
The Bagpipe by Francis Collinson
Irish Archaeology Society
Journal of the Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, volume 48, 1918
Irish Music, A Fascinating Hobby by Captain Francis O'Neill ca. 1911
Irish Regiments by RG Harris
Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, #82, 1942
History of Highland Dress by JT Dunbar
The Piobaireachd Society

Interviews by the author during late 1950's with many ex-army Irish regimental pipers from the 1914 period and prior. Much to their credit, these old boys (contemptibles) never went back to the flute after their military service. They continued with the pipe and were much the backbone of the Irish piping scene. Their good natured humour made them a great pleasure to be with. To a man however, they continue to play with the tips of their fingers and with a minimum of graces notes some forty years after their introduction to the instrument.

Who Was The Earl of Antrim? A Discussion: On the Possible Influence of Scottish and Irish Ceol Mor on Each Other

(1) Ruairidh (Rory) or Roderick Mor MacLeod 1562-1626 15th chief of the MacLeod's of Dunvegan. Signatory to the Statutes of Iona, knighted by James the 6th of Scotland in 1613.Married to Isabel MacDonald, daughter of Donald of Lagan. His sister Margaret married Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald of Sleat. Two of his daughters were married to Donald MacSwan of Roag and John Garve MacLeod 6th of Rassay, all of whom had Piobaireachd compositions written for them. It is thought, "MacLeod of MacLeod's Lament" was written for Rory.

(2) Joseph MacDonald 1739-1824 Author of the ms. "The Complete Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe" ca.1760; this is the earliest and most informative study of Piobaireachd. Joseph was the first to present this in staff notation and the first ever to undertake a serious piece of writing on the subject. It represents the foundations of Highland bagpipe music before the 1745 rebellion, and succeeds in bringing together, for the use of other players, all the constituents and technicalities in the art of Scots piping. An edited version of the ms. was published in 1803 by someone who changed the original ms. it is positively misleading and contains many mistakes.

(3) Donald Mor MacCrimmon -?- Members of this family were supposedly "hereditary" pipers to the MacLeod's of Dunvegan and Donald Mor was supposedly piper to Rory Mor MacLeod. However, the family is not in the Dunvegan or MacLeod records for this period. When explaining  Donald Mor's role on the Dunvegan estate, Scottish historians use the term "it is said", "said to have been", "who is said" which has now become "fact" in Scotland. Donald Mor is shrouded in obscurity and wild conjectures based on nineteenth century and early twentieth century speculations and legends, none of which is supported by any documentary evidence.

(4) Reverend Patrick MacDonald 1729-1824 Brother of Joseph MacDonald, in 1784 he published "A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs". The bulk of the collection was taken from his brother's ms. collection of vocal and song airs.

(5) Angus Fraser Edited for intended publication, his father's  ms. for an intended second volume to the father's published book of 1815.Only discovered in the 1950's,it has become known as the Angus Fraser Ms. in which Angus set many of his father's tunes for the piano. It contains the only authentic Scottish harp music ever to be recovered and is the most important collection of Scottish airs to be discovered in the past hundred years.

(6) Captain Simon Fraser of Knockie Published in 1816, "The Airs And Melodies Peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland." Knockie came from an illustrious family of Highland music collectors. Both his grandfathers traveled the Highlands and were amateur musician/collectors. They covered the period between 1715 to 1745 and lived in the time of the harpers. His father, an officer in the early Black Watch, served in Canada with Wolfe during the seven-year's war. He collected many songs and tunes from fellow Highland soldiers. Knockie inherited all this musical wealth.

(7) Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto 1766-1836 Our first piobaireachdologist of record  (one who does not play but knows the music, is obsessed with what the ancients played (who can never be equaled) and the correct setting and fingering of pieces), published a collection of Piobaireachd in its Canntaireachd form (vocables), in 1828. "Piobaireachd Or Pipe Tunes, Verbally Taught By The M'Crummen Pipers In The Isle, Of Skye To Their Apprentices, Now Published, As Taken From John M'Crummen, Piper To The Old Laird Of Macleod And  His  Grandson" etc etc ! It is full of inconsistencies and errors, much mutilated and of little or no value in disclosing any system. The Highland Society of London sponsored the book at a time when they began to foster a devotion to the MacCrimmon pipers and the histories of various Piobaireachd pieces. Gesto lived on the MacLeod estate and was somewhat an eccentric. In his book of twenty pieces, which he dedicated to the H S L, possibly because of the H S L patronage, he stated his music was taken from John or Iain MacCrimmon. He also wrote a ms. of historical notes regarding these twenty pieces that was discovered and printed in 1883, which he claimed to be based on information from the same Iain MacCrimmon. He gave an authorship of one fifth of his pieces to the MacCrimmons. The book seems to be a record of what was actually sung to him but has a resemblance to the MacArthur style of playing. He retained as personal piper, one Alexander Bruce who was a favourite pupil of Iain MacCrimmon's brother, Donald ruadh who was very likely his actual source. After all is said and done however, the "MacCrimmon system" of playing seems to be nothing more than a MacArthur style! It further seems that Gesto did not have the necessary knowledge or skill to reproduce accurately what he heard from anyone.

(8) Iain Dubh MacCrimmon 17721?-1822 A son of the famous Malcolm MacCrimmon, Iain lived on the MacLeod estate at Dunvegan and was a sometime piper to Norman MacLeod 23rd chief. In 1793, he advised the Highland Society of London that he was established at Dunvegan and prepared to take on pupils. The H S L was at this time hotly engaged in what was called the "Glenelg Experiment". The idea was that men recruited in the Highlands could be taught piping at the barracks in Glenelg. Nothing came of Iain's offer, nor the later offers of others. The whole project was totally unsuccessful.

(9) The Nether Lorn ms. of Canntaireachd, Compiled by Colin Campbell of Nether Lorn over a period of some thirty years, commencing perhaps as early as 1765. It is evident that Colin was not just a player, but also a collector so familiar with the form of Canntaireachd, that he could note a piece as it was being played. The 168 pieces are grouped according to their ground formulae, melody notes represented by vowels and diphthongs, grace notes and movements by consonants. There are no indicators of time, tempo, or phrasing. Sixty pieces are not recorded elsewhere. So precise is the ms. that the author can be seen to change his style under constant revision so that pieces can be translated even when they are not known from any other source. It is a written code, one of the greatest finds in Piobaireachd music, certainly the most advanced graphic form of Canntaireachd that we have.

In 1816 it was shown to the Anglo Scottish judges of the Highland Society of Scotland and these "experts and preservers", in an incredible demonstration of their self-proclaimed "knowledge", demonstrated H S S ignorance by rejecting it as being "utterly unintelligible"! (This was Scotland, where an ignorance of pipe music was to predominate the judging scene for over the next one hundred years!) This musical treasure was rescued in the early twentieth century.

(10) Angus MacKay 1813-1859 Perhaps his greatest claim to fame is that he was the son of  John MacKay of Rassay 1767-1848, the keystone of today's piping. Through John, modern teaching has come down to us. His great reputation was largely responsible for the reverence with which pipers came to regard the collection of Piobaireachd published by his son (despite the fact that few pipers could read music at the time) and to which John made many contributions. Angus, became the first piper to a British Sovereign and published in 1838, "A Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd or Highland Pipe Music". The book contained sixty-one pieces and was sponsored by the Highland Society of London. Consequently, some of the pieces were adopted to suit the piano and some were renamed after Highland Clans! Unfortunately, it implied a fixed standard or style, which eventually became the only acceptable manner of playing. It started the dependence on staff notation and standardised Piobaireachd playing. (When the Piobaireachd Society was formed in the early twentieth century, it replicated these same pitfalls.) Nevertheless, it is our first systematic and serviceable collection of Piobaireachd. Angus also left us several ms. encompassing one hundred eighty nine additional, Piobaireachd, some of which were also taken from his father.

The H S L also made space in the book for "historical" and traditional notes on the origin of the pieces, imputing a MacCrimmon origin for most everything in piping. Composed by a James Logan, an alcoholic romanticist who gave a lengthy essay on an invention of the early Victorian period, that of "hereditary" piper. Twelve pieces were now given a MacCrimmon provenance, seven more than in Gesto's book, ten years earlier. (The list would continue to grow as the century progressed.) Much of it seems written by a child and is an embarrassment to the serious student of Scottish history. Such was the new Scotland, which would now mock its Highland history and culture turning it into a Hollywood production of gross fiction and exaggeration. The piper became the fool or jester, a source of merriment or embarrassment to the Anglo Scottish upper class.
(11) General Charles Simeon Thomason 1833-1911 A man ahead of his time, an engineer officer and avid piper, in 1900, he published over 270 pieces in his book "A Collection Of Piobaireachd As Played On The Great Highland Bagpipes. Ceol Mor". His book inspired a new era in the revival and appreciation of Piobaireachd. Offering special prices to professional and army players it was the first book to put Piobaireachd playing within reach of every player. He was the first to classify pieces into different metrical forms influencing every subsequent Piobaireachd publication. Within a generation, the book inspired the use of staff notation by most pipers.

As the first president of the Piobaireachd Society, he was the first to insist that judging should be in the hands of the pipers, and not in the hands of local gentry or amateurs. He was much concerned over the ever-sharpening pitch of the chanter scale (due to the increased interest in light (non-Piobaireachd) music, especially the note high g, so essential in Piobaireachd playing. However, he was much thwarted by the peasant type of minds of those he tried to help! Nevertheless, this was Scotland.

His book-condensed notation by codifying all gracing movements into symbols so that it was possible to lay out an entire piece on a single page, so intent was he in the pursuit of a fixed pitch that he became the first to encourage the development of synthetic materials to replace cane reeds.

(12) Simon Fraser of Australia 1845-1934.  A certified nut case from Melbourne, who during the early twentieth century, filled the Oban Times with letters claiming that he possessed the Mac- Crimmon "secrets", which he said, used Canntaireachd for religious purposes and secret messages and that he was the only person alive who knew their system of Canntaireachd! It is not known how he arrived at this conclusion, since we have no record of actual MacCrimmon Canntaireachd. It is presumed he was influenced by the Gesto collection of 1828. However, Fraser's settings and Canntaireachd do not correspond to Gesto's, and are of little or no value in disclosing any system or secrets.

Amazingly, in a sort of fantasy that closely parallels an emperor's new clothes scenario, he found adherents to his myth in Scotland! Some wrote the Oban Times that they agreed with Simon Fraser! He in turn blessed them as disciples and they proclaimed his sainthood!

Fraser's father Hugh, 1796-1893, had known both Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto and Iain Dubh MacCrimmon before immigrating to Australia. Simon had lessons in Australia, from Peter Bruce, who had emigrated there also. Peter was the son of Donald Ruadh MacCrimmon's favourite pupil, Alexander Bruce (see footnote #7).

In 1979, Dr. Barrie Orme published in Australia, twenty of Fraser's settings, "The Piobaireachd of Simon Fraser with Canntaireachd". These are very musical pieces and seem to portray a MacArthur style!  Sadly, the bizarre claims of Simon Fraser continue to captivate some.

(13) Archie G Kenneth -?- A Piobaireachdologist who for many years contributed interesting articles to the Piping Times, his main field of study seems to have been in the Nether Lorn Ms.

(14) The Highland Society of London Founded in 1778, a club of Anglicised Scottish gentlemen, the higher echelons of Scottish Society, obsessed with the false idea that Piobaireachd was dying, it set itself up as the saviour of same! In an effort to present the music of Piobaireachd to the outside world, they encouraged its music to be written in staff notation for the playing of orchestral instruments, perhaps to prove to their English overlords that the newly formed Scotland was not such a savage place after all. In 1781, the society established the first piping competitions in an effort to set up a standard way of playing and is responsible for the rigidity in Scottish piping today. They further became obsessed with the idea of fixed settings for the benefit of teaching army pipers, fostering on dead accuracy and less expression. Their claim that without their intervention, Piobaireachd would have been lost (in twenty years, they spent �18 on prize money, less than �1 a year), is not supported by evidence! Some hold the view that the H S L ruined Scottish piping.


The MacCrimmon Legend, The Madness of Angus MacKay
1980, Cannongate Publishing Ltd. by Alistair Keith Campsie

Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping 1745 - 1945
1998,  McGill - Queens University Press, by John G Gibson

The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society 1750 - 1950
2000, Tuckwell Press, by William Donaldson

Great PipeScotlandRome/Ancient WorldPiobaireachdIrelandWar PipeUilleann PipeSaffronReferences